After listening to the recent State of the Union address, State of the State address and Buffalo's State of the City address, there is a common crucial element missing from each: That is the need to get all of us to start the grieving process and get from denial to acceptance that the promises made on health care are not going to be able to be kept.
The current health care promises on a federal, state and local level are a disaster ready to happen that will make the 2008 sub-prime debacle look tame. The current figures based on actuarially adjusted numbers are staggering, and they are all totally unfunded, meaning there is no money set aside to pay for these promises.
Medicare's total unfunded liability is greater than $38 trillion (an unfunded obligation amounting to more than $325,000 per U.S. household) and will continue to grow at more than $2 trillion each year if we don't do anything. This will only accelerate as the government subsidizes another 30 million to 40 million more Americans getting health insurance under the new health care reform law.
New York's total unfunded liability for public-sector retiree health insurance comes to more than $60 billion. When you add in the state's local governments, school districts and public authorities, the unfunded health care mandate is more than $205 billion.
Buffalo's total unfunded liability for public-sector retiree health insurance comes to more than $1.2 billion. When you add in the Buffalo School District, the unfunded health care mandate is more than $2.5 billion. The economic decline of Buffalo will only accelerate if it continues to pile a growing unfunded mandate onto its shrinking tax base.
In addition, Buffalo's municipal government also has reached a fateful tipping point: As of fiscal 2010-11, it is spending more on health coverage for retirees ($35 million) than for active employees ($30 million).
As with any grieving process, there will be anger and then time to face up to reality and negotiate a realistic agreement for a solvent future. Once the new agreement is set and the sadness subsides, we all can accept that our future and our kids' future will not be one of paying off a mountain of debt but a future that will provide the opportunities that have made America so great.
With more than 10,000 people turning 65 years old every day for the next 18 years, and the obesity rate that has grown from 15 percent of the population in 1980 to 34 percent in 2010 driving health care costs, we all need to find solutions to controlling the unsustainable health care costs. The grieving process needs to start today.
Tim Godzich is an entrepreneur who has started several health care companies, including Definity Health, the original company to offer a consumer-driven health care plan.